We were going to write off Dubai and dismiss the entire UAE for that matter, based on our first and lasting impressions of the ground staff at Emirates airline. Read more about our nightmare trip Stranded in Dubai, 3 hours from Maldives. The little things exacerbated our bitterness of our forced stopover:
- Dealing daily with false promises from Emirates that our luggage was going to arrive imminently.
- Being taken for a ride in a Dubai taxi. Our driver was meant to take us to the Burj Khalifa an easy icon to spot being the tallest building in the world. As we approached the landmark, he did an about face and drove completely the wrong direction. He passed the hotel we were picked up from before doing another u-turn to travel the same distance again back to the Burj Khalifa.
- Overlooked by a male waiter in of all places a PF Changs, simply because I was a woman sitting next to her husband. Shane had to do the speaking, ordering and paying.
- Oggled and tutted at when I wore some mid-length shorts to the Old Souk. I want to let the man that tutted me know that I meant no offense. That my appropriate clothes were going to arrive apparently very soon!
- Having a man approach my children for money by showing them a gaping open infected wound that went across his entire chest and forearm.
Not in a good travel headspace
Normally, as travellers to a foreign country we would take a few of the above incidents on the chin, such things require a cultural sensitivity and respect. As for taxi drivers, who hasn’t been ripped off by a taxi driver before? However, as we were recovering from the Emirates ordeal, still sickly, feeling delicate and for me inferior as the opposite sex. We have had enough of Dubai. Wait what country is Dubai in anyway?
It was time to go home or at least resolve to stay in the confines of our shiny sanctuary, the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates hotel suite.
Dubai is tacky, expensive and a grandiose shell of a city.
When you have a mind-set that you are not going to enjoy a place. There’s no way to snap out of it and everything seems infinitely dull and unworthwhile. Suddenly, the amazing infrastructure, grand shiny skyscrapers and impressive feats of architectural genius is nothing but a tacky, expensive and grandiose shell of a city with no substance or humanity.
Time and again, the little things started to wear away at the very fabric of our family. Feeling guilty, we decided to take the kids to KidZania apparently a great play center in Dubai Mall, as we approached the entry, it was emblazoned with a gigantic EMIRATES logo across it. Our buddy Emirates sponsors the whole attraction, which made us want to throw up. This logo still has this same effect to this day.
There was no way we were going to pay one more cent to Emirates let alone the hefty $100 AUD entry for our family. We went to Sega Republic next door instead which is a game arcade on steroids, fun for the kids though with lots of options.
To cement our dislike of Dubai further, was our attempt to take the kids up the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. To ultimately be rejected from the top as all the tickets had been sold out for the entire week. It seemed as though even when we were trying to give Dubai a chance, all it did was slam a door on our face.
Snapping out of it
Then, one little moment shed a light into the soul of Dubai and tipped the balance of our trip. It happened in the Old Souk. My 4 year old son, Liam wanted to buy some “laser fingers” a toy he spotted as we explored the old spice markets. He was such a patient boy during his 22 hour ordeal in the airport and very deserving of these multi-colored tiny torches that slipped on each finger.
We decided to show Liam the local currency, Dirhams and have him pay the shop owner and say thank you in Arabic “Shukran”. Perhaps this broke the ice between us weary tourists and the local toy shop owner. Not only was the man honest in that he didn’t over-charge us. He showed genuine kindness towards Liam and to our little family.
It was a brief moment, but it was as if the shroud of distrust and bitterness we had of Dubai was lifted from us. Even though little words were shared, there was a connection. That’s the joy of travelling, experiencing different cultures, seeing new things and connecting with people. To discover kindness has no boundaries.
After this our attitudes altered. Although sick, tired and in a place we rather not be. For the first time we could see the potential in Dubai. This somewhat insignificant experience of a toy shop in the Souk was the catalyst in opening our eyes to the heart and soul of Dubai. Changing our perspective from nightmare holiday into thinking that there are worse places to be stranded than Dubai.
Though the title to this post is not going to be changed to “I love Dubai”, we discovered the more positive aspects of Dubai and the reason it deserves a visit.
Changing our perspective
A collection of warm gestures and kind interactions with the locals changed our perspective of Dubai. The best of Dubai does not lie in the 7 star luxury hotels and extravagant architecture it’s with the random acts of kindness from it’s people. After we stopped wallowing in our own self-pity, we were enlightened by these perspective changers:
Layla being consoled by strangers in a packed Dubai Metro carriage
We wanted to experience the state of the art, driverless metro train system of Dubai. What we didn’t realise was the subsidised and therefore inexpensive means of public transportation is used by everyone in Dubai. As we got to the business end of the line, we were squeezed in like sardines.
Layla being harnessed in on the back of Dad, was getting squished and a little teary. Two local men in suits started consoling her. One doing a simultaneous dance and Arabic song and the other offering her a mint (which she was happy just holding) and some soothing words. It did the trick and surprised us as Layla’s not a girl that can be soothed easily and moments before these were two very reserved strangers on the metro.
Not all Dubai taxi drivers are extortionists
Too sick to walk but still wanting to show the kids the sights, we toured Dubai in a back of a taxi. Here is where we met Taxi driver number 2, taking us to the must-see’s of the city and making all sorts of short-cuts and u-turns to find the best way to a vantage point.
There was a point where I was in back of the parked taxi with the kids asleep and my husband, Shane was somewhere on the streets of Dubai snapping photos. A thought did cross my mind that we could be kidnapped and I have nothing to my name except the kids snacks and an empty camera case.
The driver turned out to be a gentle soul, kind and trustworthy. He stopped the meter during each of our frequent breaks around town and even wrote a list of Arabic phrases, directions and things to eat whilst navigating the Dubai traffic. Validating for us that not all Dubai taxi drivers are extortionists.
Treating our kids like their own by staff at the Kempinski
There were a few lobby staff at the Kempinski from Nepal, they had told us that they were working in Dubai and sending money back to their families. Layla reminded them of their own daughter with apparent resemblance. Treating our kids like the bees knees. Spoiling both kids with decadent lollipops and playing hide and seek with them.
My son praised by shop keepers
The Old Souk toy shop owner has an air of intimidation. With the tiniest whisper of “Shukran” from my son the toy shop owner’s face lit up and he was welcoming, clapping and speaking (as a guess) words of praise. Every so often there was a laugh and a clap.
Mr Ahmed and the pot of tea
We loved our stay at the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates Hotel and it boils down to an act of kindness by the hotel manager Mr Ahmed. Noting our ordeal at the airport once we checked in, not only did he call a doctor on our behalf, upgraded our room to a suite and checked us in early. Mr Ahmed also brewed a beautiful pot of tea. Leaving us extremely grateful.
Random act of kindess at the Burjuman Arjaan
It was our intention to tour Dubai after our Maldives stay. We had booked into the Burjuman Arjaan by Rotana Aparments. In a city with plenty of hotel options, these apartments were painfully researched and was perfect for us in terms of price, location, facilities and reviews.
Unfortunately we cut our trip short to fly home due to the cancellation of the Maldives flights and sickness. This meant the apartment we had paid in full was to be forfeited and we weren’t going to be compensated by travel insurance.
A letter was written to apologise for not being able make the reservation and the reasons for the cancellation. To our astonishment, the Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications, Zubair Rashidi cancelled our booking without charging us for the cost of the entire stay. This was above and beyond their duties and our expectations, leaving us gobsmacked. Another random act of kindness this time from someone we had never met.
A big shout out to The Burjuman Arjaan, a great option for families. Located in downtown Dubai close to two Metro stops and attached to Burjuman Mall. When our attitude changed so did our perspective of the sights and people of Dubai.
These people went out of their way to make our lives better even though they didn’t have to. What we discovered is that despite a few rotten eggs, there are still good people wherever you are in the world.
To to all those that we were lucky to meet during our stay in Dubai, we thank you for your compassion and kindness.
Have you stopped over in Dubai? What do you think of this city?